Appeal Decision: Peter Roberts vs Die Hoorn

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Die Hoorn

Respondent: Peter Roberts

Matter No: 23/2014

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

 [1]  The respondent lodged a number of complaints against the applicant.  These followed a number of articles published by the applicant on the following dates: 13 March 2014, 20 March 2014, 27 March 2014 and 10 April 2014.  The context of the matter is that the respondent was a politician and a Democratic Alliance Councillor in Oudtshoorn.  There was some continued contest between the DA and Congress of the People (Cope) on the one hand, and the African National Congress (ANC) on the other over the control of the municipality.  The articles are therefore essentially about politics.

[2]   The gist of the complaints were as set out below.

2.1      Regarding the first article: Mr Roberts complained that it cast him in poor light; also as being dishonest.  Secondly, it incorrectly stated that he was a councillor for ward 4.  The second one too, did the same, without mentioning his name.  His complaint about the third one is that it did not mention that he denied the allegation that he had entered into some alliance with other parties (opposition parties).  As regards the fourth one, he complained that it made allegations against him without giving him the opportunity to respond.  Respondent’s general complaint is also that the paper has lost objectivity with him; and it gives an impression that he acts only in his own interest and that he is also dishonest.

[3]   In his Ruling of 8 June 2014, the Ombudsman dismissed the respondent’s complaints, except two.  Firstly, he found that the applicant breached article 2.1 of the Press Code in that it wrongly conveyed that respondent was a councillor for ward 4.  The Ombudsman found that that was what was in the story and for that reason, found in favour of the respondent. I do not see any justification or basis for a different finding.  The second complained upheld was in respect of the third article, the Ombudsman also found that the paper breached article 2.1 of the Code.  The complaint, it, will be recalled, was that the paper refrained from mentioning that the respondent denied that getting into an agreement with the opposition parties.  The applicant argues that respondent was asked questions in this regard, which he failed to answer. The paper says that respondent denied this agreement only in certain newspapers, and that it was not obliged to take that paper as a source.  As the Ombudsman says, the comments which accompanied the mentioning of the alleged agreement, were such that it behoved the paper to mentioned the denial. The impression created was that he was busy conspiring with other parties. The Ombudsman’s finding is that the applicant’s answer did not meet the complaint; he therefore made a finding that the respondent did deny the allegation, which denial should have been mentioned.

[4]   I endorse the reasons given by the Ombudsman and, in light thereof, rule that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel; the application for leave to appeal is therefore refused.

Dated this 4th day of August 2014

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel